Fighting for their schools

Decision pushed back as further meetings planned

PICKENS — After hearing input from the public about a proposal to consolidate schools in the Pickens attendance area, the School District of Pickens County announced Tuesday that it has scheduled three meetings to further research and to discuss the proposal for the district’s long-term planning.

Although a vote on the matter was scheduled for next Monday’s school board meeting, the board of trustees’ facilities committee will now hold workshop meetings with representatives from each school in the Pickens attendance area in order to analyze and find possible solutions for meeting the ongoing capital needs of the district.

The meetings are scheduled for the next three Tuesdays, Feb. 23 and March 1 and 8, at 7 p.m. in the district office’s board room.

The board will meet as a committee of the whole on Monday, March 14, with the intention of making a recommendation based on the findings of the workshop meetings. Based on public feedback given to the board and administration at public input meetings and through numerous phone calls and emails, the workshops will address the following topics:

• Alternate consolidation options;

• Alternate timelines for gradual implementation of a consolidation plan;

• Possibility and impact of budget cuts to other areas;

• Alternate options for housing district-wide services such as Adult Education, Alternative School, Operations, and Accountability & Information Technology;

• Possibility and impact of a tax increase;

• Options for a referendum on a tax increase;

• Postponement of a decision until after the November election, at which three board seats may be contested;

• Sale of closed school buildings to a charter school operator.

Many of these topics have been discussed at length by the board, administrators and stakeholder groups.

The meetings will be presided over by school board trustee Phillip Bowers, chair of the facilities committee. The stakeholder group will be composed of two members from each of the seven schools potentially impacted by the merger. Breakout sessions with specific schools and topics may occur prior to meetings at 6 p.m. or after the 7 p.m. meetings are completed. The stakeholders will be appointed by the principal of each school.

Ben Robinson/Courier School District of Pickens County superintendent Danny Merck speaks at a community meeting at Holly Springs Elementary School last week.

Ben Robinson/Courier
School District of Pickens County superintendent Danny Merck speaks at a community meeting at Holly Springs Elementary School last week.

In the fall of 2014, four different teams were formed by attendance areas (Easley, Daniel, Liberty and Pickens) representing elementary, middle, high, the Career and Technology Center, parents and teachers. All members were given comprehensive financial data and charged with making recommendations for a five-year budget plan. The teams delivered their presentations to the board on Nov. 24, 2014. The plan was an overview of how to maintain a competitive district in spite of financial challenges such as rising fixed costs and a general fund that is 89 percent salaries and benefits. The teams were asked to solve the major problems in five years pending favorable economic conditions. The findings of these teams were one of several presentations which led board members to consider consolidation.

“It is our hope that holding more meetings with stakeholders to attempt to solve the challenges facing the district that the board can come to a more refined solution and that the public will have a better understanding of the financial realities of serving 16,500 students with excellence and equity,” school district spokesman John Eby said in a news release Tuesday.